On Monday morning, I welcomed the first youth conference to Montreat for the summer of 2021. For years, I have told our youth the same four things:
- Whether you’re here for the first time or the tenth, you are welcome and you belong.
- While God’s voice is everywhere, Montreat is one of those places that people sometimes find it easier to tune in and hear it. Listen for God’s voice this week.
- God has a call on your life, and a call for Montreat, too. Lend your own voice this week, because it’s through your own voice, through your sharing, through your being among us that God’s new work can be done here.
- This call on your life, and on what we’re doing here, is not just for you or us. It’s for a purpose out there in the world, where more of God’s work is to be done.
I believe every bit of it, and want them to believe it, too. This Monday morning, recreation leader Chandler Guess had really leaned into my intro with gusto, and the mood was pretty light as I came to the stage. Yet as I looked out at the youth, my thoughts clouded up. These conference experiences are transformative for so many of those youth and for us, and yet all I could really say was “thank you.” Thank you for being here. Thank you for coming back. Thank you. I could hardly think of anything more important to say.
It’s customary for the president of the conference center to stand up at conferences and events and welcome folks to Montreat. Typically, for example, I offer a few words of welcome at every conference each summer. I ask for a show of hands of those who are here for the first time. I thank them for coming, and then I thank the rest of them for coming back. I’m cognizant that they are not here to listen to me, so I try to keep it brief. I get to welcome folks to other events, too – staff members at meetings, worshipers to Anderson Auditorium on Sundays, church groups at gatherings and popsicle parties, and so forth.
Our staff and volunteers make an effort so that people feel welcome on our campus. I hope my remarks contribute to that feeling, and yet I usually hand back the microphone feeling that I get more out of these moments than those being welcomed. Looking out at faces – in Anderson, in Convocation Hall, at The Barn, wherever – always reminds me of how grateful I am that people want to be here. Montreat has given me so much, and that’s in large part because so many others have wanted to be here for such a long time. They have made Montreat possible.
This summer, the customary task of welcome has become particularly meaningful for me. The faces and old feelings have returned to familiar spaces, faces this time shrouded in cautionary masks and face coverings, but still, faces. On Sunday morning this week, I stepped up into the pulpit and, at the words “Welcome to worship,” people broke into applause. I think everybody just wanted to participate in the celebration of being together again. There have been poignant moments, too, as when I asked our incoming summer staff members at orientation for a show of hands of those whom we had laid off right before last summer began. As several hands went up, I just said, “I’m sorry.”
I don’t stand up and welcome new Clubbies in the same way, so I’ve been walking around, watching the kids on the playground, watching them crouch behind familiar hiding places from their counselors at Moore Center Field. I’m happy to see them back walking the roads and trails between the pool and tennis courts and The Barn.
Overall, from a numbers perspective, this is a “sixty-percent summer,” meaning that, for most conferences and activities, we are expecting to reach about sixty percent of our normal levels of participation. We set that target back in the winter months, when there were few data points on which to base such a guess. COVID was peaking, and many church leaders were understandably concluding that their groups wouldn’t be traveling this summer. For now, the sixty-percent guess seems to have been an accurate one, and a blessing of sorts given the precautions we must still take in our indoor spaces. Meanwhile, fall and winter bookings are showing even more promising strength.
We remain cautious. No one is counting any chickens. Still, Montreaters want to be together. We want to be safe, and we want to be smart, and we want to be together, so welcome back, everybody. You belong here and you belong to God. Listen for God’s voice, and to what purpose you’re being called. Think about God’s call for Montreat. It all matters – here and everywhere God’s work needs to be done.
Last week in this space, I said that if you find yourself wondering why something is different this summer, the answer will generally be traced to adjustments due to COVID. In some cases, however, what feels different might not be so different.
Questions have been coming in about how to submit applications to participate in this year’s Fourth of July Parade. The answer is that applications will be available for pickup at the Montreat Store on June 18th. Applications are due subsequently on June 28th.
So, a couple folks have wondered, since applications aren’t yet released, is there more to the story? Is COVID responsible for the “late release” of applications? No. That’s approximately the time in June that applications are made available in most summers. We aren’t being extra-cautious or waffling on our decision to hold the parade in any way. In this case, we’re just following our usual standard operating procedures.
Glad the questions were asked, actually. Better to find out the answer than to wonder.
Montreat Conference Center